I shy away from controversy. I'm firm with my convictions, but choose to not air them publicly. Unless I can't hold back. Like now. Because contrary to popular opinion, I don't believe Fifty Shades of Grey is domestic abuse cloaked in a risque BDSM romance.
Who am I to say? How do I know what makes someone feel abused?
But I do. As a child. It doesn't matter who or what. Just understand that I speak from a place of knowing what it's like to quake in fear, to tiptoe around so as not to enrage or inflame, to duck kicks and objects being thrown.
So, whether or not you agree with me, I'm speaking from a place of experience. My words aren't gospel, but I feel license to share my opinion. Which is that I don't believe Fifty Shades of Grey is about domestic abuse.
Ana calls the shots and is completely in control of the relationship. She might be nervous or unsure, but she doesn't fear him. While she may question Christian's actions, she never questions his motives. And she has agency, even if she sometimes feels out of control (but show me ANYONE who is in a relationship and hasn't ever that kind of imbalance of power).
Most importantly, Anastasia knows she can leave at any time. She's torn because she's inexperienced and uncomfortable with the man's intensity and lifestyle, while at the same time being completely and totally mesmerized by him. Maybe the lack of sexual chemistry in the movie makes that hard to believe, but it's one of the most important elements of the novel. Their physical connection is palpable and consuming.
I think the easiest route to take is to pick apart the criticisms and place them both fictional and real life contexts (context is lacking in many of the current arguments). It's so easy to get swept up in a cause and start advocating for it -- especially online -- without having all the information. There are so many people people writing and sharing criticisms of Fifty Shades without ever having read the books or seen the movie.
Note: my comments are based on my own interpretation and world view. I have no knowledge of the BDSM lifestyle other than what I've read in Diary of a Submissive.
Concern: Christian stalks Ana and shows up at her place of work, the bar she's at with her friends, at her house, and on her vacation.
Truth. I'll concede this behaviour is stalkery. In subsequent books, Christian definitely goes too far when it comes to tracking Ana (I had problems with this aspect of his character but it's essential to the story arc). He's obsessed with her movements, but it's out of a misplaced concern for her safety. FYI -Ana's friend lets Christian into the house when she doesn't answer his calls. He does not break and enter. And he shows up in Atlanta out of fear of losing her. But tell me: have you never been obsessed with a love interest? Did you never track someone's every move, ask questions about them, follow them around the mall, crank call them, 'stalk' them on Facebook?
Concern: "..the book even includes several instances of rape, where Ana is coerced into or outright forced to have sex." (Relevant Magazine)
False. Tell me you haven't been 'coerced' to have sex. Maybe you were tired or not in the mood, or uncomfortable with a new position or toy. But you did it to make your partner happy. This is what is called being convinced. Or Just Doing It. There is no rape in Fifty Shades of Grey. All sex is consensual.
Concern: Reprehensible threats and behavior are represented as playful fun; force ends up being acceptable because, although it starts with Anastasia's terror, it ends with her enjoyment. (Relevant Magazine)
False. Anastasia is nervous and unsure, but she's not terrified. And when she is, she removes herself from the situation. She has NO problem standing up to her lover. One of the most frustrating aspects of the trilogy is that she keeps leaving when they argue. Due to Christian's own history, he would never terrorize anyone.
Concern: Anastasia is violently deflowered with no foreplay.
False. She asks him to make love to her. She almost has an orgasm the minute he touches her. They both go gently into that good night.
Concern: The sex is not pleasurable for Ana because it's not to her taste.
False. Completely. Watch Dakota Johnson as Anastasia tremble at Christian's lightest touch. Just because you wouldn't enjoy it doesn't mean she isn't. And when she isn't, she lets him know.
Concern: Christian doesn't speak to Ana with respect. He gets terribly mad at her and reprimands her.
Misinterpreted. With my history this is a hot button. I've learned that people have tempers and nobody is in control of theirs all the time. They may not always speak respectfully to each other in heated situations. That doesn't mean that they intend to harm each other. In fact, my husband, who is a sweet, kind man has uttered, in anger, that I'm being stupid, irrational, ludicrous, overly sensitive, that he doesn't care what I think or what I have to say. When I get mad I throw socks him. C'est la vie REAL.
Concern: Christian Grey strong-arms Anastasia. He's threatening and controlling and wants to be the one in charge. He buys her expensive gifts and is jealous.
Truth with a caveat. This is a common trope in romance and erotica fiction. You don't have to like it, and you don't have to agree with it. But there are many women who fantasize about being involved with an alpha male. Whether or not it's a concept that appeals to you, it's common. I'll be honest. I cede control to my husband in many areas of my life (and vice versa). I wouldn't mind being surprised by a new car, house, cell phone, computer or wardrobe. Living a somewhat unbalanced relationship is not revolutionary, nor is it abusive. For all his big talk, Christian is very much at Ana's mercy and her will and happiness are what's important to him.
Concern: Christian is narcissistic and damaged and Anastasia can fix him with her love.
Truth. Again, the fantasy that the right love can redeems us is a common trope in romance fiction. Finding love has helped me heal many of my wounds. If the situation were reversed and Anastasia was the one damaged and Christian the one making her 'better' would we question it?
I'll close with some final thoughts. Yes, there are elements in Fifty Shades of Grey that warrant discussion. However, we have to remember that these people are figments of E.L. James' imagination. She's no expert on the BDSM lifestyle and her scenes lack a certain accuracy. This is not what a healthy relationship looks like. You cannot fix a violent person with your love, nor is it romantic to be scared. No boy or man should ever use their power to exert their will over a woman.
But is Fifty Shades a manifesto for domestic abuse? Nope. Love is not always gentle. It's not always equitable. It's not always kind. Sometimes it's painful and tempestuous and emotionally draining.
Originally published on BeNiceOrLeaveThanks.com
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